How to Support Your Employees While “Returning to Work”

With COVID-19 vaccines easing the many virus restrictions on our everyday lives, the time has finally come for many workers to return to the office. But although the transition back may be welcomed by some, many are having a challenging time with it.

Even with all the strides that officials and civilians have made fending the virus off, the pandemic is not over. Even fully vaccinated people are not totally immune to the virus. This reason alone is enough to explain why so many people are experiencing anxiety and depression regarding their impending return to regular work. But the still-lingering virus is not all that’s weighing on the workforce; the past year and a half have indeed had a wide array of adverse effects on mental health across the planet.

As a result of the strain on mental health that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, employee engagement has plummeted. Consequently, workers have quit in droves, and companies are feeling the effects. As a leader of your organization, this means that you should be prepared to provide your employees with all of the support they need as they return to work. To help you do that, let’s take a look at a few tips for making a comfortable and easy transition back to the office while maintaining employee engagement and reducing turnover.

Exercise Compassion and Understanding

This tip isn’t exclusive to the post-lockdown return to work, but it’s particularly important at this time. There are myriad reasons why your employees may have trepidation about their return to work. Although it may be easy to write it off as laziness or a sense of entitlement, chances are it has a lot more to do with the impact that COVID-19 has had on their mental health.

Perhaps your employees are fearful that the virus is still around, or perhaps they’re coping with the loss of a loved one. Maybe they’re simply shell-shocked by the sudden sweeping changes that the entire planet underwent in 2020. Whatever the cause may be, you must find empathy for each and every one of your workers and the struggles they may be experiencing during their transition back to the office.

Take Your Time Transitioning Back

In 2020, many organizations learned on the fly how to transition to remote work while remaining productive and maintaining solid employee engagement levels. We know now that working from home is not as detrimental to everyday operations as many had previously thought.

Keep that in mind as you make your transition back to regular work. Perhaps you can begin by alternating between office days and remote days until you get into the swing of things, or perhaps you can consider the possibility of permanent remote days if it’s feasible. There are ways both these arrangements can be beneficial to your employee engagement efforts and your organization as a whole.

Be Transparent and Communicative

You should make the process of transitioning back as clear and straightforward as possible to your entire workforce to help them better prepare for it and better understand its rationale. Your workforce has had enough surprises and sweeping changes to last a lifetime after the events of 2020. What is most likely to help them now is a detailed plan with sound reasoning.

The plan should also include some guidelines and safety protocols that can provide comfort to your employees. Let them know the steps you’re prepared to take to prevent the spread of the virus, such as social distancing and face mask rules, sanitization efforts, and access to disinfectants. There will likely be certain employees who are very fearful about the return. Acknowledge that you’re thinking of them, that employee health is of the utmost importance to you, and that you’re willing to be flexible in order to accommodate them. If you do those three things, the transition back should be significantly smoother.

Follow Through

The guidelines and safety protocols you lay out, as well as the concern you show for the well-being of your workforce, should be something you take very seriously. It can be easy to start relaxing on the rules you’ve set after a certain amount of time without any incidents. Still, those who are particularly fearful of returning or have been traumatized by losing a loved one to COVID-19 will feel unsafe and uncomfortable if you do not enforce your own rules. As a result, employee engagement and productivity will diminish.

In order to ensure that people comply with the safety protocols you’ve put in place, open a line of communication with your workforce and let them know that you are there to listen to any of their concerns regarding new office rules. Better yet, establish a way to provide anonymous feedback so that everybody feels comfortable informing you about health and safety guidelines.    

Be Flexible

The COVID-19 pandemic has rearranged how people look at their jobs and work in general. Work-life balance and flexibility have become far higher priorities than ever before. Did you know that research shows remote work increases your employee engagement and boosts productivity? In order to help your employees meet their needs and remain both happy and productive, you’re going to need to be flexible about their return to the office. You can do this by allowing for mental health days or remote work days if the employee feels overwhelmed by the transition. Allow them to speak their minds, and be sure to really listen.

Topics: wellness, employee motivation, employee engagement, employee experience, strategy, culture